Predictions

by Mike Masnick




The Telco Traffic Shaping Smokescreen

from the it's-all-about-the-control dept

A couple weeks ago, we had the story about BellSouth saying it wanted to prioritize traffic and services from certain (paying) partners -- or just its own services. This wasn't a surprise, as the telcos have been leaning towards this for a while. While we had thought that any move in this direction would lead to public outcry and an FCC mandate for network neutrality, we hadn't counted on Kevin Martin being so willing to roll over for telcos. It's certainly not as clear any more what will happen. This morning there's lots of buzz about an article in the Boston Globe saying that telcos are lobbying for just this right, with Slashdot, Boing Boing and Broadband Reports all weighing in. What's not entirely clear, though, is how serious this is. The Boston Globe article seems like it's really just a riff on the earlier BellSouth story without much new -- just tying together the obvious loose threads.

However, this whole issue has generated an interesting discussion between some of us here at Techdirt in trying to figure out what's going on. On one side, you can see why a telco would say it should be able to offer quality of service guarantees on services like VoIP and IPTV that it wants to offer. After all, they want to offer the best possible service -- and if that means prioritizing the traffic, why not? However, what that ignores is that for most of these services there's no reason for additional QoS (Quality of Service) -- especially as broadband speeds increase. VoIP, for example, really doesn't take up that much bandwidth, so claiming it needs to be prioritized means one of two things: (1) the telcos own VoIP offerings are dreadfully programmed to hog bandwidth and they're woefully unprepared to offer more bandwidth or (2) they're looking to block competitors and charge more to partners. Which one seems more reasonable? With the telcos putting in new fiber networks they should be able to provide the necessary bandwidth needed for most of these applications without having to do any prioritization. If they're worried, there's a simple solution that avoids the prioritization issue altogether: increase the bandwidth offered. Complaining that people are overloading the network you're selling as "unlimited" (even if you don't mean it) so that you need to prioritize traffic doesn't really cut it.


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  1. identicon
    Ken, 14 Dec 2005 @ 9:38am

    Re: QoS and VoIP

    The issue of transparency is an important one. Cellphone companies sell "walled gardens" of mostly captive IP-based services, not Internet Service. In the past, Internet Service has meant transparent (mostly, anyway) IP transport. Now, ISPs see value-added services like VoIP as potential revenue they understand, and don't want to lose potential customers. And some of them are trying to redefine their service into a walled garden to "protect" it. That's the real threat. I'd certainly like to be able to use (or even buy at a reasonable cost) prioritized low-latency service for my Vonage phone over my home Comcast connection. But that does have a real cost for the ISP (I work for one, not one of the ones I mentioned), because VoIP traffic has different characteristics than "normal" data. For example, it's UDP and doesn't adapt well to congestion, and it's usually symmetric, and current systems are designed to handle asymmetric traffic for cost reasons. Both of these are major "last mile" issues, and will only get worse as more such protocols evolve. But if we want the word "Internet" to mean what it has for the last decade, we can't let that problem cause people to wall off their parts of the network in the interest of protecting their potential revenue.

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